As we explore projects where mySociety can help address the climate crisis, as an organisation we’ve also been trying to understand the carbon impact of our existing work.
Using Code for Australia’s carbon calculator as a really helpful guide and starting point, we’ve estimated mySociety’s 2019 and 2020 carbon footprints.
In 2019 this was 74 tonnes of CO2, and so far in 2020 it’s, as you’d expect in a year that includes several months of lockdown, substantially lower at around 23 tonnes.
It’s proving frustratingly difficult to place these figures in context: even while using their methodology, we can’t accurately compare the outcome to Code for Australia’s given their very different geographical situation and activities; and as a remote organisation where all employees work from home, our footprint is always going to be different from more conventional set-ups. If you think your organisation bears similarities to ours, and you’ve also calculated your emissions, please do let us know!
As for addressing our output, we are pushing a two pronged approach: we’ve already changed staff policies to encourage more sustainable working methods and to ensure a significant reduction in our future emissions; and, currently, having learned of disturbing failings in even the most-recommended offsetting services, we are researching where we might be able to make direct payments to mitigate the carbon we produce.
|mySociety 2019 carbon footprint|
|Item||Total CO2 (metric tonnes)||Percentage of total|
|Servers – manufacture||5.120||6.96%|
|Servers – electricity||7.199||9.79%|
|Laptop – manufacture||1.655||2.25%|
|Laptop – electricity||0.475||0.65%|
The biggest contribution to carbon expenditure in 2019 was travel. mySociety is a distributed organisation, with staff all around the UK. While on a daily basis that means very little commuting, we do (or did pre-COVID) meet up frequently in teams, and three to four times a year the entire organisation convenes in one place. International research contracts that require onsite interviews can mean long haul plane journeys, and travelling to the international events that we organise requires some air travel as well.
As an organisation we produced 47 tonnes of carbon in travel in 2019, with 75% produced by relatively few longhaul plane flights. The overall contribution of train travel is relatively low despite a large number of journeys (349). There were far fewer domestic plane journeys, but even so they accounted for almost as much carbon as train trips within the UKs.
|Mode||Journeys (one way)||CO2||% C02||Total distance||% Total distance||Average C02 per journey|
|Long distance plane||24||35,297||75%||73,201||63%||2,941|
|Short hop plane||31||5,366||11%||11,938||10%||298|
While for obvious reasons our 2020 travel costs are much lower, we are keen to avoid a return to the ‘old normal’.
Over the last year, our policy towards ‘short’ plane journeys has changed. When staff do travel, if their destination can be reached within 7.5 hours door-to-door by train (or other forms of sustainable public transport) they should take this option rather than flying, except in mitigating circumstances around safety or accessibility.
Additionally, if staff choose low-carbon holiday travel they are entitled to claim additional annual leave, as part of mySociety’s involvement in the Climate Perks scheme.
Our wider environmental policy can be read on our website.
Image: Providence Doucet